"Happily Ever After?"
PrologueThey say it's not where you go; it's how you get there that counts. I spent the first twelve years of my life not knowing where I was going, and then one fateful evening in 1993 I caught a fleeting glimpse of where I thought I should be. It was a long hard road to get there, filled with pain, anguish and many, many sleepless nights spent lying awake, wondering, dreaming, planning and scheming. In the end I made it, I got to where I wanted to go - I was in the arms of the man of my dreams. So that's it isn't it? We live happily ever after, not much more to tell. Well, no. It's never that simple; as it turns out those three years were only one small step on the path to happiness. So what next, where do I start? I'm tempted to move swiftly onwards to a point where my life is stable, and while less interesting, pleasant to read about but I'm not going to. Not a single shall be spared. I'm going to start right where I left: sleeping in my lover's arms.
The morning sun shone brightly down on Glasgow. Apparently the turbulent Scottish weather had taken a turn for the better, or so this warm Saturday morning early in June seemed to suggest. Today was going to be a beautiful sunny day. Today would be the first sunny day for quite some time. Today was a day for action, a good day for getting things done.
The turn in the weather had brought the sleepy suburban community to life. The streets were buzzing with people, having risen from bed earlier than teenagers consider healthy, eagerly washing their cars, mowing their lawns or otherwise busying themselves with summer time activities.
The playing fields were alive with swarms of youths happily playing soccer and baseball in the mid morning warmth. Married couples with dogs strolled leisurely round the perimeter of the park enjoying the first of the summer sun.
A blonde haired girl wandered slowly up a concrete path that ran through a gap in the playing fields, joining the housing estates above and below the park. She was on her way to visit her drunken boyfriend, hoping to resolve the difficulties the teenaged couple had been through. His change of feelings towards her, she was sure were down to excessive drinking. Things always seem better in the morning. Sure enough, this morning her mind was filled with optimism. It was summer after all; everyone was happy and optimistic. How could she stay sombre? Everything would work out. She was sure of it.
High above the busy sports fields, on the edge of a red ash hockey pitch (now marked out with a running track for the summer's athletics season), a youth sat staring into space. He vaguely surveyed the landscape before him but he was deep in though, fraught with emotional turmoil, too deep in thought, in fact, to really observe anything that was going on around him. Alas, the young blonde across the park from him progressed upon her way unnoticed. Although their separation was great he might normally have spotted her, her appearance, her striking blonde hair may have sparked some recognition, and perhaps started metaphorical alarm bells ringing for the boy.
My peaceful slumber was disturbed. The harsh sounding of a bell intruded into my deep sleep. It was a short-lived intrusion however, the ringing was brief and once silenced I returned from my half woken semi- conscious state into the deepest sleep from which I had been roused.
The next disturbance proved to be fatal. The sound of an opening door brought me instantly back to reality. Wide awake now, my slumber dead, I sat upright in bed, an unmistakeable bed that triggered recognition of my whereabouts. My situation became painfully obvious to me as I saw the blonde girl enter the room in slow motion. My expression rapidly became one of horror. I sat there, petrified, much like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming vehicle, mesmerised and unable to act in self-preservation. The girl's expression portrayed more puzzlement than the shock I expected to see. I opened my mouth in an effort to try and speak, but my words must have caught in my throat. Before I could gain any composure and begin to articulate, Denise spoke.
"Sorry Petros, don't look so shocked, I didn't mean to barge in - I was looking for Dez..." her words struck me and brought sudden realisation to me, that things were not quite as I'd thought them to be, "Fraser said he was in here, have you seen him?"
I looked around and found that, sure enough and much to my relief, the double bed was empty save for myself. My best friend and, as I remembered, my lover was nowhere to be seen. My expression must have changed to one of immense calm and relief as it dawned upon me that, for now, my secret love would remain so.
"No," I said. A further realisation then came to me. Where was Derek? Had it been in my imagination, or had I in fact as I recollected fallen asleep in his loving embrace? It did sound too good to be true - perhaps I had drunk more than might have been appropriate. "I don't know where he is," I continued slowly, trying to unravel the situation in my mind, "I haven't seen him since last night." Nor had I for that matter, seen Denise since last night - or very early this morning to be precise. And as I recall she conducted a hasty departure following a less than desirable bedroom encounter with her intended. Not what she'd been bargaining for I'd wager. Yet, had Derek's account of the tale really prompted such apparent emotional devastation? I must confess, however, I really know between little and nothing of Denise, neither her emotional stability, nor her affection for our mutual love, Derek.
"Oh." She looked disappointed. I couldn't blame her. Then she looked puzzled again. "Why are you in his bed?" Good question. She might be blonde, and her face may be as a page from a book (upon which one may read many things), yet nothing was getting past her this morning.
"Ah. We usually sleep together. Umm, I mean share a bed," that didn't seem to help, "Usually in sleeping bags though. I was steamin' last night, though, so I went without it. So I could get up easier. You know, to piss."
She seemed satisfied with my response. I was satisfied with the result. Fast-talking and lying were becoming specialities of mine. "Who else stayed the night?" she asked heading for the door.
"I don't remember, sorry," I told her honestly.
"Ok, I'll check, and ask the others..." she said as she left the room, and I presume, proceeded down the hall to the living room where, upon couches the 'others', whoever that may have entailed, would most likely remain. Now that I was alone once more I rose from the bed and crossed the room to the window to seek Derek. My scan of the area revealed nothing of importance. No matter how hard I thought, I could not satisfy my confusion over my love's absence. Moving to Derek's closet, I procured some underwear and donned in before exiting for the living room. There some answers might await me.
At around the same time, far from his home, Derek rose from the grassy seat he had occupied for the last few hours. Stretching his aching legs and dusting the grass from the seat of his football shorts he began his journey homewards, starting by crossing the hockey pitch by which he had sat. His mood was sombre, his mind was still in a state of unrest. His position and his whole outlook on life had been changed: turned up side down by his own hand. He had started down a rough path, that he knew would be fraught with difficulty and, most probably, danger - but which may ultimately lead him to happiness and fulfilment. It wasn't going to be easy, nor would it be easy to turn back, as tempting as it was. To turn back would be to give in to the pressure of society, to turn his back on the one he desired for so long, to live a life of self- deceit and to wear, every single day of his life, a facade, a face that was not his own. Living a lie would make life much easier, he believed naively. To an extent, he had a point - even if he was only pretending to be straight, and having a normal, healthy relationship for show, life would be simpler, and less burdened with hardship. In reality, the emotional anguish and lack of self-fulfilment in living out such a charade render it an option no one should be forced to choose. Derek had only just turned fifteen though, what would he know of such things? To be truthful he knew very little of what it was to 'be gay'. All he knew was that it stood to make his life much more complicated than the hopeless mess that most teenage lives seem to evolve into, and which his would surely be; gay or otherwise.
To continue would be chancing everything (as he saw it) on a relationship. It was a relationship that he wanted, and had longed for, for as long as he cared to remember. The dilemma had him frightened.
He had demons to face too. And an angel. The angel, his man, would be anxiously awaiting his return; or sleeping. Either way the demons, he thought, could wait.
I was sitting naked, save for Derek's boxers, in his living room with Denise, Fraser and Richard when Derek returned from his wandering. We'd established from Daniel that two people had been heard leaving the flat that morning, Angela, who had a Saturday job in a newsagents which started early, and (presumably) Derek. It was a safe presumption after all, he wasn't in the flat and no one else was missing. Having provided that useful (?) snippet, Daniel reluctantly left us alone, to go to work.
Anyway, Derek returned. I heard him checking his bedroom before he joined us in the living room. He smiled at me as he entered; it tried to be warm but it seemed hollow, as if something was missing. The smile quickly gave way to a look of shock, if not absolute horror, when he discovered Denise was present too. I wouldn't bet he'd expected to see her. I was delighted to see him, having been quite concerned by his absence. Denise's face, once again, betrayed her obvious excitement at his return. Richard and Fraser looked nonplussed by all the fuss.
"Morning boys," he said merrily. "Enjoy yourselves last night?" and without waiting for an answer added as a non sequitur, "Looks like summer's here at last."
Without speaking Denise stood up and walked towards him. Kiss him and you're dead, I thought to myself. As she approached, Derek turned and walked out of the room. The bedroom door closed behind them. I wouldn't say I felt comfortable, but less uneasy than I had the last that door had closed behind them. I tried to make conversation but Richard and Fraser were more concerned with trying to reclaim some sleep. I had only to sit in silence for five minutes before I heard the front door opening and closing, signalling a departure. I took this as my cue and walked through to Derek's room.
He was sitting on the edge of his bed, looking downcast and distant. Not again, I though as I sat down to comfort him. I placed my arm round his shoulder. He shrugged it off and drew back away from me. I withdrew my hand and placed it in my lap, clasping it with my other. I looked away from him, staring at the carpet. I didn't want to look at his face, I couldn't bear seeing him like that. "What happened?" I asked softly.
"Nothing," he replied without emotion, "I apologised for last night, and I tried to explain that I wasn't interested. I didn't do it very well. I couldn't come up with a good reason not to want her."
"Oh. Does she suspect anything?"
"No. I don't think so, not yet anyway."
"So, you're really not interested in her?" No sooner did the words escape me than I regretted them.
"Good, I don't want to share my boyfriend with anyone," I said jovially, trying to lighten the tone again.
"Boyfriend?" His raised inflection left me in no doubt that he questioned my use of the word. Fuck.
"Yeah... Remember, I asked you out last night. You said yes, that makes us a couple. Doesn't it?"
"Oh." Then he stopped. The silence seemed to last for hours. "I don't know. I don't know if it does... if I... if I can. It's so difficult, what if we get found out? It feels wrong. It is wrong!"
"No!" I cried, "you can't believe that."
"I do. It's all wrong. Guys and guys aren't supposed to feel like this about each other, are they? I don't understand..." Derek was now weeping freely.
"It isn't wrong! I love you, and I think you love me too. What's stopping us being together?"
"It is wrong. It goes against everything I've been brought up to believe. I'm stopping us being together. Don't you see? It wouldn't... couldn't work. We can't be together, I can't be going out with another boy."
"You can, we can do this. You are all I want. You're all I've wanted since I've met you. I never thought you could even feel anything like what I felt for you. But you do. And now you're denying your feelings..."
"I'm not denying anything. I have feelings for you! I had feelings for you since the start of third year. I don't understand them though. I knew there was something different about you, I wanted you as a friend but even then something still wasn't right. I liked you so much. I more than just liked you, but liking you is all I can do. I can't love another guy! It isn't right."
He was going round in circles here. I was devastated; my world was falling down around me. Everything I had longed for had finally come to be yet now it was being taken away again. I couldn't understand why he was doing this to me, to himself.
"I need you Derek," I sobbed. "When I didn't know, I could cope. There was always a faint hope driving me on. Now that I know, and you're rejecting me, I don't know how I'll go on."
"I know what you mean. It isn't easy, but it's easier than trying to be together. It would never work, we'd get bullied from all angles. My parents would disown me. My career would be ruined before it started."
As much as I hated to admit it, he was right. Who ever heard of a gay soccer player? School would be a living hell if I was found out, my parents would... Well, I don't know what they'd do. It doesn't bear thinking about. I knew that he was wrong though. He had to be wrong. Being with him felt so right, it was so right. Why couldn't he see that?
"I'll always be your friend, Pete. I don't want that to change..."
"It has," I said curtly and left. I wasn't giving up; no, I just needed out. The room, Derek, the conversation, they were destroying me. I had to escape to survive.
The sun blazed down on me as I walked down the path across the fields. I felt guilty for saying what I'd said to Derek. I didn't mean to hurt him, but after what he had put me through I wasn't feeling myself. I wanted to go back and apologise and hold him. I knew I couldn't though. Not yet anyway. A few hundred yards ahead of me on the path I saw two people stopped, talking to each other. One party's blonde hair grabbed my attention. It looked like, I walked on, it could be, I drew closer, it was Denise. Who was she talking to? Not of consequence I suppose. I didn't want to see her now. I imagined she must have felt just as bad as I did, but she couldn't know that. My face was still stained with tears, I didn't want to see anyone I knew.
The sun continued to emanate its heat, burning the back of my neck as I approached the couple. Thinking about Denise and how she must feel got me thinking. What exactly was Derek doing? He seemed, to all intents, to be burning all his bridges. First he dumps and (probably) alienates Denise, and then me. Was there someone else? Was he so fucked up in the head that he really didn't know what he wanted? Time shall tell.
By the grace of God, or fate, or good fortune Denise parted company with her conversationalist before I arrived. Whomever she had been talking with continued towards me. As they grew close I recognised, to my astonishment, that the anonymous partner was none other than my best friend, Jenni. Had I really been so intent on planning how to avoid confrontation and so wrapped up in my own thoughts that I'd failed to notice my life long friend? Yes.
"Alright Petros!" she greeted me, and then noticing my tear streaked cheeks her tone changed and her motherly instincts came into view. "Oh, honey. What's wrong? What happened?" That was all it took. I was crying again.
"Derek," I sobbed.
"Oh, I'm sorry. Things didn't go to plan? I was talking to his girlfriend there, she's down too, says they've been fighting,"
"No, it went brilliantly," I interrupted her.
"Why the tears then?"
"Last night, we got together. Said he loved me. Told him I loved him. It was the best." I forced out between sobs. "Then this morning. Says he can't go out with me. Doesn't want to admit his feelings. Says it's too hard. Says it won't work."
Jenni remained silent as I recounted my tale of woe. Actions speak louder than words and the loving embrace she engulfed me in spoke volumes. She was always there, always ready to support me. Only once I had finished, and calmed down slightly did Jenni speak.
"I think Derek has a lot of thinking to do. He needs to sort out what he feels. He'll need a lot of space and time to try and get his head straight. The best thing you can do is leave him alone. If you're not there, not in his life, he may realise how much he misses you and admit to his true feelings. Then he'll realise what a mistake he's made. Yeah, the best thing to do is to give him time." She was right. She spoke so softly, yet with such an air of confidence and authority there was no room to doubt her. She had not finished though, "Fuck that, I'm going to see him. I'll phone you shortly to let you know how things went."
Wow. I hope she knows what she's doing. I smiled half-heartedly, as a child might to it's mother; bravely trying to accept her optimistic view of whatsoever trouble it may have found itself in, and nodded before drifting home.
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